In recruiting, literally anything can go wrong — and it often does. Even the (seemingly) simplest of steps can go sideways.
Take onboarding, for example. This is supposed to be the end of the process. You’ve made a hire! The candidate has said yes! What could go wrong?
Just a few examples:
- Criminal record dings
- Employment authorization issues
- Positive drug tests
- Unenthusiastic references
- Candidate accepts another job after saying yes to your job offer
- Candidate tries to renegotiate compensation/benefits
- Lost funding
There’s no foolproof way to prevent any of these problems from coming to pass, but over my years of headhunting, I have identified four indicators that you could be heading for trouble. I didn’t pick these up from any textbooks or corporate trainings. Rather, they came from my experiences in the trenches — and needing to have my own plan B on occasion.
1. Missing a Drug test
The legalization of recreational drugs like marijuana has given some people the false idea that drug tests no longer matter. While some companies have done away with the tests, they very much matter to those organizations that still conduct them.
If your company or client requires a drug screen, take it seriously — and make sure your candidate takes it seriously, too.
Listen, I get it. Things happen. We’ve all had those nights when we stayed out just a little too long. But missing a scheduled drug test hints at three things:
- Your candidate may be unreliable.
- Your candidate may lack commitment.
- Your candidate may have a legitimate drug problem.
2. Taking More Than 24 Hours to Accept an Offer
Receiving an official job offer should be a joyous moment for a candidate — but it isn’t always.
The industry-standard deadline for a response to an offer is 48 hours. But if hour 47 rolls around before the candidate accepts, how confident can you really be about their yes? Just because they’re taking the job now does not guarantee they’ll last more than a month — if they even start at all.
In a world where electronic signatures are standard, not having access to a printer is no longer an excuse, either. People don’t procrastinate on things they truly want.
3. Renegotiating at the Finish Line
If you’ve done your job right, the candidate and company should be in agreement about compensation, benefits, employment structure, and other key aspects of the role before an offer is extended. If the candidate decides to start negotiations again upon receiving an offer, that’s a major red flag.
Renegotiating compensation at the finish line puts the employer in a tough position. The candidate knows the company wants to hire them. Moreover, recruiting is a long and difficult process, and the company really doesn’t want to start all over again from square one. At this point, the candidate has the leverage.
In my experience, people who renegotiate at the finish line tend to be more professionally driven by money than any intrinsic motivation. If you find yourself facing this situation, ask yourself honestly: “If we don’t hire this person, will we have to reignite an eight-month search for a similarly qualified candidate?”
If the answer is no, you know the search must continue. This person may be the best of your current candidate pool, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best candidate on the market. Most everyone is replaceable.
However, if the answer is yes, you may want to consider agreeing to the candidate’s new demands. (In my experience, this is often the case with very high-level roles and very niche skill sets.)
Whatever you decide to do here, just know this person is going to be more susceptible to offers from your competitors. Don’t bank on them hanging around for very long.
4. Old References
Honestly, I don’t find reference checks very productive. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the candidate will just offer the name of a friend who is guaranteed to give a rave review.
But while I’m not interested in the reference conversation itself, I am interested in whom the candidate chooses to list. Is it a coworker from seven years ago, or a direct supervisor from within the last 24 months?
The average job tenure for US employees is 4.6 years, and even shorter for employees under 35. As the gig economy continues to grow, it’s likely that job tenure will shorten further. Short tenure is no longer a guarantee that a candidate was let go for misconduct or poor performance — but such things do still happen. And given that a reference from seven years ago could be a reference from 10-15 gigs ago, it can be hard to figure out what a candidate’s career trajectory has been like.
That is why I pay close attention to who a candidate’s references are. If it’s a coworker from years ago, that may mean they’ve had trouble building strong relationships or holding down long-term work. If it’s a supervisor from their last gig, that’s a much better sign.
Bonus Sign That Your Candidate Will Be a Good Fit: Sending a Thank-You Note
I have never had a candidate write a sincere thank-you email, accept the job, and then back out. It’s as simple as that. To me, this is the holy grail of confirming a candidate’s interest. If they’re motivated enough to voluntarily say thanks, they’re almost guaranteed to be genuinely interested in the job.
Too many recruiters believe the hiring process is over as soon as a candidate says yes to an offer. In reality, we’re only about two-thirds of the way there, and a lot can still go wrong.
As a recruiter, your bottom line is placing the best candidates in the right roles. That’s why it’s up to you to anticipate trouble before it rears its ugly head.